It has been announced today that Sky Arts and Wingspan Theatricals will explore how technology affect art and the creative process in a era that is dominated by computers and technology.

Beyond the Fence is the world’s first computer musical and will play at London’s Arts Theatre from the 22nd February to the 5th March 2016. It will be directed by Luke Sheppard and choreographed by Cressida Carre.

The musical is conceived by computer and crafted by computer, modelled on a statistical survey of  the ‘recipe of success’ for a hit musical. This fascinating process is being filmed for a Sky Arts series titled ‘Computer Says Show’, which will be broadcast in spring 2016.

Collaborating with with leading experts in music, computation and the science of human creativity, composer Benjamin Till and his husband, writer and actor, Nathan Taylor, the award winning team behind ‘Our Gay Wedding: The Musical’ (Channel 4), will bring a whole range of computer-generated material to life, presiding over the creation of an emotionally powerful and exciting West End show which is at the same time experimental.

So what is the show all about? Set in 1982, the story follows Mary and her daughter George as they celebrate one year of living at the Greenham Common peace camp. The group of women that they are with all are committed to preventing the arrival of US cruise missiles through non-violent protest.

But when Mary faces losing her child to the authorities, an unlikely ally is found in the form of US Airman Jim Meadow.  How can she continue to do what is best for her daughter while staying true to her ideals?

How did the show come about? 

Produced by Neil Laidlaw, Beyond the Fence is based on a big data analysis of success in musical theatre, conducted by Dr James Robert Lloyd, Dr Alex Davies and Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter (Cambridge University). They examined everything from cast size to emotional structure in a mixture of more and less successful shows.

The team then visited the What-If Machine at Goldsmiths, University of London. With Prof Simon Colton, Dr Maria Teresa Llano and Dr Rose Hepworth at the helm, the machine generated multiple central premises, featuring key characters, for the new show.  The team selected this as the starting point and the original idea for the musical:

What if a wounded soldier had to learn how to understand a child in order to find true love? 

A plot structure for the musical was also generated computationally, thanks to work led by Dr Pablo Gervás (Complutense University of Madrid).  A brand new analysis of musical theatre narratives enabled him to adapt an existing story telling computer system, called PropperWryter, to turn its hand to musicals and build the core narrative arc of the new show.

 Taken together, all of the above enabled the precinct for the emerging story to be identified: Greenham Common.  The team then wrote a book and lyrics (with the assistance of some other computational tools) that fitted all these constraints.

 Finally, the music material has been provided by Dr Nick Collins (Durham University), who has created a computer composition system he calls Android Lloyd Webber based on a machine listening analysis of musical theatre music, conducted by Dr Bob Sturm (QMUL) and Dr Tillman Weyde (City University).

The production features seat and costume designs by Tom Rogers and lighting by Howard Hudson, with casting yet to be announced.

Beyond the Fence is on at the Arts Theatre from the 22nd February to the 5th March. 


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